Interview: JJ Hairston

JJ Hairston - 2006The East Coast is lined with powerful church choirs on the Gospel circuit these days, and for the most part, they deliver. Their lyrics are based on the Word of God, the bands are driving, the soloists can blow and the choir vocals are tight and the anointing of God is upon them.

Youthful Praise out of Bridgeport, Connecticut possesses all of the above and more. This church choir . Turner’s Faith Temple where the legendary Bishop J. C. White is Senior Pastor has delivered a third project that does not disappoint. I had the opportunity to talk on the live with the visionary for this music ministry, J.J. Hairston.

Robyn McCollum: Thanks so much for joining us today. There’s story behind the beginnings of Youthful Praise and and we’d love it if you’d share that history with us.

JJ:  Actually, Youthful Praise is really a church choir; we started singing sixteen years ago now. We were a teen choir at my church that was too old to sing with the kids, and too young to sing with the adults, so we decided to start doing our own thing. We were singing songs by Pastor Hezekiah Walker, John P. Kee, and Richard Smallwood. Then our First Lady told us that we should start writing our own songs. The leaders at the time were Shawn Brown who has gone on to be a Pastor now, and myself. We started writing at that point, and the first song that Pastor Brown wrote was Awesome God. We decided to record it in 1999. We were introduced to Gospel which was a website. They decided to start a label and put us out, and things just took off from there. We praise God for the small cycle; it really showed up to be in our favor.

Robyn: You guys were singing long before that, I heard way before you did a recording. You guys up and down the east coast. I saw you at Ford Memorial here in Philly and some other places – you guys were doing it then. You said that your Pastor told you to write. Who is your Pastor?

JJ: My Pastor is Bishop J.C. White; he is from the Institutional Radio Choir in Brooklyn, NY. He wrote songs like “Stretch Out” and “Keys to the Kingdom”. These are old songs that a lot of older people know, and the Institutional Radio Choir was one of the most famous church choirs in the country.  They were doing well so that’s why gospel music and active recording was no strange thing in our church. It was a natural thing for our First Lady to say go ahead and start writing your own songs.

Robyn: Now Institutional C.O.G.I.C. is in NY, where are you located?

JJ: Bridgeport, CT.  My Pastor moved to Bridgeport, CT and started pastoring there, but he was the director at Institutional in NY.

Robyn: And that brings me to NY, because if anybody listening loves James Hall Worship and Praise, you used to be right smack in the middle of the Tenor section, tell us about that.

JJ: Actually James Hall, Pastor Brown and the Worship and Praise family are from Institutional. So it was like a family thing, we all knew each other. We were actually traveling with James, and we’d just sit on the bus and chill until we decided OK we are going to start singing. We had been rolling with them for about a year before we started singing. We used to drive from Bridgeport to NY every week, which is about an hour drive for rehearsal, and I learned a lot from singing with Worship and Praise. I really got to travel as a recording artist, and I really had a good time with them. I took a lot from them and brought it to Youthful Praise.

Robyn: Yes, I remember seeing you on the videos. If anybody has any James Hall videos, they can see JJ right smack in the middle of the Tenor section!  Youthful Praise has a brand new CD out. What is your new project called?

JJ: Youthful Praise – Live, The Praise… The Worship.

Robyn: Wonderful project, I’ve been talking about it for weeks now and its still spinning around in my CD player and I’ve had it months and months.

JJ:  Wow!

Robyn: Incredible God is a phenomenal song; tell us a little about that song.

JJ: Well about the song Incredible God, Incredible Praise, there is a young man from Bridgeport, CT named Deon Kippings, I was telling everybody that we were about to record and everyone thought it was going to be the typical thing we usually do. The current album is not too far from what we usually do, but it’s a little different. No one was sure of the direction I was going, because I said I wanted to change up a little bit. So Deon came to me with one song, which I told him wouldn’t work. But this song, when he came to me with it, I knew that we could change it up a little bit, and make it exactly what he wanted it to be. So we actually sat in the studio, and he gave me most of the song and I started putting my own little touch to it and we put it out, Incredible God, Incredible Praise. I love the song, and I thank God he came to me with it, and I thank God that people are enjoying it.

Robyn: Yes, we are because He is an Incredible God, and He certainly deserves Incredible Praise! Tell us a little more about the project, its called Live, The Praise The Worship. Tell us about where the name came from. Tell us about the music, and what exactly is the message that you want people to get from listening to this new CD?

JJ: Well at my church we are very much into praise and worship. Actually, most of the service is praise and worship. The choir sings praise and worship songs actually because we’ve had traditional type songs which we sang for so long, that’s all we did. Then we started changing up a little bit. Actually, the project is a natural progression from what’s happening in my church. So the project is a lot of praise and worship songs but then, of course, there are still the regular traditional songs. There’s one song written by my Pastor, Bishop J.C. White titled, “I Am Your Help”. It’s like the old Institutional style. Then there is one song written by Jonathan Nelson called Shift this Place, we really tried to give it the feel of a natural service so that you feel as though you going to a regular worship service. You have the praise and worship, then you have the message, and then you shout them on home. That’s what we tried to do with this album, and it seems that people are enjoying it.

Robyn: Yes and I am enjoying it. It is that kind of project, especially when I heard the Institutional type song. I knew who it was as I turned over the CD case to see. I was saying that I knew that the White’s wrote that one. It had that Institutional, COGIC sound.  JJ, do you guys have a website?

JJ: Yes we do, it is

Robyn: Can you buy the CD off the website?

JJ: Yes you can, there is a link there that will take you straight to and you can buy the CD there.

Robyn: I know that you are really busy with traveling across the country. I read that you are speaking at colleges, with youth groups, and at conferences, but tell us what is God doing in the life of JJ Hairston?

JJ: God has really opened up so many doors for us this year. We will be traveling so much and we just appreciate the fact that we are doing so much. In fact we were just in Delaware last Saturday at a conference. We had a great time there, as you said we have been going to a lot of colleges, and we are going to LA this Sunday so God has opened a lot of doors for us to travel. We’ll be back in Philadelphia and I’m hoping that people will come out to see us. I want to come to Pastor Walkers’ conference this weekend in NJ. Pastor Walker is a good friend of ours and he’s been a good friend to the ministry for years, so I’d like to support him. So we’re doing a lot of traveling and trying to really promote the album, and we’ll be recording sometime early next year as well.

Robyn: That was my next question, when are we going to hear some more from JJ Hairston and Youthful Praise?

JJ: We are actually going to record Easter weekend, the day before Easter 2007.

Robyn: Are you recording at your church in Bridgeport?

JJ: I’m not sure yet, it’s a toss up between CT and DC, so we’ll see.

Robyn: I’m sure we’ll have all the information about the live recording when it comes up. We know that you direct, sing, and write a lot of the songs on this and previous projects, and it’s certainly a sound that we’ve grown to know and love from Youthful Praise. A lot of folks sing your songs, as is the case with Awesome God and now Incredible God, Incredible Praise. At the day and the time when a lot of the gospel music isn’t appropriate to sing in the house of God, how do you come up with such great songs? Do you have a guideline for the songs that you write?

JJ: Actually I think of what we can do at our church on Sunday morning. If we can’t do it at our church I just assume that everyone wouldn’t be able to do it.  Not that I have a problem with contemporary gospel, it has its place and it has its time, it reaches certain people but I know what I enjoy. I enjoy helping to manifest the presence of the Lord in the room. So we always sing the songs on the album at my church first. If they go well there then we assume they will go well on the album. We don’t record anything that our church hasn’t heard first. If they enjoy it we just hope that everyone else will enjoy it.

Robyn: Well, JJ I want to thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. We’re loving the new project and are looking forward to many more. You said we could expect to hear from you early next year, so we’ll keep our ears and eyes open for what God will do in the music ministry of Youthful Praise. We greatly appreciate you being obedient God, and doing what he has called you to do. We are being blessed by it! 

For more information on J.J. Hairston and Youthful Praise, visit the website at, click writer/director to read more about J.J. Hairston.

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